It's the most prestigious, most coveted award in journalism. On Monday, the Pulitzer Prize committee gave its top honor to an unsurprising, if somewhat controversial choice.
The Washington Post and The Guardian are sharing the committee's Public Service prize for their joint reporting on the NSA's mass surveillance programs, relying on secret documents provided by former contractor Edward Snowden.
Revelations about secret NSA programs like PRISM and MUSCULAR fundamentally changed the national debate about government surveillance. Since the story first broke in June 2013, the NSA has been subjected to increased scrutiny, several lawsuits, and some reforms imposed by President Obama.
Snowden himself called the Pulitzer decision "a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government." He also thanked The Post and The Guardian for publishing his leaks: "Their work has given us a better future and a more accountable democracy." (Via Boing Boing)
And although the prize wasn't awarded directly to the journalists involved, it is a tacit recognition of the work performed by Barton Gellman, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewan MacAskill — the four reporters who spearheaded efforts to report the Snowden leaks. (Via The Washington Post / Katherine Frey, Flickr / Gage Skidmore, Flickr / Kris Krug, BBC)
Interestingly, a couple of reporters for The New York Times noted on Twitter that Laura Poitras, who shared a byline in both The Guardian and The Post stories, might be the first reporter ever to win two Pulitzers for the same story. (Via Twitter / @mattapuzzo)
Of course, the politics of the Pulitzer decision are hard to ignore. CNN's Brian Stelter points out recognizing the value of the NSA leaks is likely to be seen as a jab to the Obama administration for fostering the agency's programs.
"Clearly the people who select these stories for prizes believe what Snowden did, and what these reporters did, was a public service."
It's not a view shared by Snowden's detractors. Rep. Peter King, a stauch critic of the NSA leaker, called Monday's award a "disgrace."
But Politico notes the Pulitzer committee would also have had a tough time if they ignored the Snowden leaks. "To pass on the NSA story would risk giving the appearance of timidity, siding with the government over the journalists who are trying to hold it accountable and ignoring the most significant disclosure of state secrets in recent memory."
In total, 13 different Pulitzer awards in journalism were handed out Monday. Some of the notable winners include The Boston Globe for their coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombings, and The New York Times' Tyler Hicks for his photographic coverage of the Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya. For the first time in a decade, no Pulitzer was awarded for feature writing.